Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


End of grades? Med school to revisit system

A pass/fail grading system for first-year medical students could be instituted by the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health if approved next month by a faculty committee.

A campuswide group consisting of key faculty members recommended the policy for a medical school faculty vote in late July, and two committees related to the medical school have already unanimously approved the measure.

Throughout the first year, the medical curriculum focuses on the sciences, potentially putting students with backgrounds in the sciences at a slight advantage over students who enter medical school with a background in humanities.


“We want to make sure that all students have a level playing field throughout the science-based first year,” said Christine Seibert, associate dean for medical education at the School of Medicine.

“Regardless of their diversity of undergrad and life experiences, we want them to have the same chance to achieve highly,” Siebert added.

UW junior Wenlu Gu, a UW pre-medicine student, agreed with Siebert.

“With this system, everyone can start off on the same ground and make connections,” Wenlu said.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 23 of the top 25 medical schools — including Stanford and Harvard — have switched from a traditional interval system to the pass/fail grading program for the pre-clinical years of medical school.

Some Big Ten schools have done the same, including the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan.

Class rank would be based on the core classes taken in students’ second and third years, and no rank would be tabulated for first-year students.

Currently, the UW Medical School has a letter grading system identical to the undergraduate grading system. Under the new policy, first-year medical students would either receive a satisfactory or unsatisfactory report on their transcripts.

In order to determine appropriate standards for what constitutes failing or passing, course directors would investigate past grade records.

Seibert said the system could inspire a “culture of teamwork” rather than competition and individualistic tendencies.

“We are hoping to promote knowledge acquisition for use in patient care, rather than for grades,” Seibert said.

UW junior Jenny Schramm, a pre-medicine student, said the system could dissolve the hierarchy created when students compete for grades.

“As a first-year medical student, I would prefer to bond with my peers than compete against them,” Schramm said.

Some opponents of the new grading system argue that a lack of competition could cause students to pay less attention to their studies.

Schramm argues otherwise.

“If we are getting into UW-Madison School of Medicine, aren’t we amazing students already who understand the importance of trying?” Schramm said.

Studies at Mayo Medical School and other medical schools across the nation have shown the change from an interval system to a pass/fail system has not resulted in significant changes in performance from medical students throughout their first year.

Further research has shown the students of medical schools with pass/fail grading procedures are accepted at similar rates to residency programs when compared to their academic counterparts at traditionally graded universities.

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